New, versatile 3D camera could bring Face ID to smaller devices

Depth sensing cameras used for applications like the Face ID in the iPhone X are getting even smaller. During the Consumer Electronics Show on January 8, PMD Technologies AG and Infineon Technologies AG announced the smallest 3D Time of Flight camera module yet, called the IRSZ238XC, that’s also expected to deliver more consistent results in bright light. The camera is expected to see mass production by the end of the year.

The entire 3D camera module, which also includes the sensor, lens IR emitter and their circuitry, is the smallest 3D camera module available worldwide, according to PMD, measuring 12mm by 8mm. But along with the tiny profile, the camera also boasts a higher resolution than earlier chips, with 38,000 pixels.

Along with the higher resolution and smaller profile, PMD says that the camera sensor gains more reliability for outdoor use. Now working at the 940nm wavelength as well, the update is designed for more reliability when using the system outdoors. Another design change, called Suppression of Background Illumination, allows the system to use that 3D sensing in full sunlight. As a time-of-flight camera, the camera measures distance based on the speed that a pulse of infrared light reaches objects. Since these cameras rely on being able to measure that pulse of light, performance can vary in bright conditions.

The company says the camera will also be easier to integrate into products, thanks to an enhanced interface.

PMD’s 3D sensing is already being used inside robots, smart home products, smartphones and augmented reality headsets and the company expects the new chip to be integrated into those categories as well. The latest chip, the company says, is about taking the technology where the industry is expected to expand.

“Having gained experience from shipping ToF chip products already since 2005 and from 2016 also in the consumer space for high numbers, we are happy to leverage the technology on the next level having a functional, highly integrated new imager available at exactly the right point of time, as the market demand is increasing significantly,” said PMD CEO Dr. Bernd Buxbaum.

The camera module is on display at CES. The companies expect production in the fourth quarter of 2018, which means devices equipped with the smaller depth sensor probably won’t make it out this year, but shortly after.